Tech-Savvy Teenager Writes Children’s Book on Coding
Why does the world need a children’s book on coding? The demand for a skilled tech workforce is growing – and at a faster rate than the country can supply workers. This shortage can be attributed to several factors, but a lack of interest – primarily as the result of a lack of exposure – is one primary culprit.
For example, a recent Junior Achievement survey reveals that most 13- to 17-year-olds want to be professional athletes, artists, musician/singers, or actors/actresses. Also, most of the teens interested in non-medical STEM careers are boys. In fact, only 11% of girls want to pursue a STEM career.
While women earn over half of all bachelor’s degrees, according to data from the National Girls Collaborative Project, they only earn 17.9% of computer science degrees, and minority women earn a dismal 4.8% of computer science degrees.
But Sasha Ariel Alston, a Washington D.C. native, plans to change those statistics. Alston is the teen author of Sasha Savvy Loves to Code. What makes a teenager decide to pen a book – especially one on coding? “A radio interview in high school inspired me to write Sasha Savvy Loves to Code because that’s when I realized that everyone doesn’t know what coding is,” Alston tells GoodCall®. “As I did more and more research, it was clear that I needed to write a book to inspire girls.”
About this children’s book on coding
The 19-year old Alston spent two years writing the book. “My mom suggested that I should write a book, but I’ve also been surrounded by lots of creative people in arts and writing throughout my life.”
The fictional book features a 10-year-old protagonist who attends a coding camp and becomes interested in coding – just like Alston. The book also includes other aspects of Alston’s life, such as sometimes getting frustrated and learning that it’s OK to asking for assistance. The book also includes a glossary of coding terms. But despite the subject matter, the tone of the book on coding is light and engaging.
And, that’s because Alston took great pains to ensure that she was writing the book from the perspective of a 10-year-old. She extensively researched children’s books and along the way, she also obtained feedback from parents with kids in the target age group. However, Alston explains, “The targeted age group is 7 years old to 10 years old, but anyone can read it if you are interested in coding or want to know more about it.”
However, Alston didn’t need to conduct any research for the technical aspects of the book since she’s quite at home in this discipline. Alston attended McKinley Technology High School, and she created her first app while attending a coding camp at UCLA. Also, her six internships include Everfi, Microsoft, and the chief information office at the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The goal of the book
Alston wants to share her love of coding with others – especially young girls of color who may not have coding role models. She also wants to dispel some of the stereotypes surrounding computer science. There’s often a perception that coders are white, male, nerdy introverts. But the title character in her book is an African-American girl who is savvy, fashionable, and popular.
Alston used Kickstarter to raise funds for the book on coding. “The only challenge that I had in the beginning was deciding if my project would be fully funded, because Kickstarter has an all or nothing concept.” The project was a success with the Kickstarter community because they saw the value of a book that had female STEM role models, incorporated problem solving principles, and encouraged persistence. The funding period lasted 44 days and garnered more than $17,000. Alston’s book is currently available on Amazon.
What next after the book on coding?
So, what is she doing now that the book has been published? “Currently, I’m an information systems major with a minor in marketing at Pace University in New York City.” And she doesn’t spend every waking moment coding and studying. “I enjoy hanging out with friends, reading, writing, exercising, and fashion,” Alston says.
She has also been a motivational speaker at several events, encouraging young girls to consider careers in STEM. What’s on the horizon? “I plan to develop an education technology startup that provides students with the skills needed to excel in school and life,” she says. “I also want to further develop the characters in my book with other projects, and continue the movement to get more underrepresented people into STEM.”
The presence of role models appears to be one of the most effective ways to generate interest in STEM disciplines. BYU is pushing to increase the number of women in cybersecurity. And Northeastern, Tufts, and Sweetbriar are working to close the gender STEM gap. But, as Alston demonstrates, one person can make a world of difference.
Joanne Moretti, senior vice president and CMO at Jabil, a Fortune 200 Manufacturing Solutions Company; and general manager at Radius Innovation & Development, tells GoodCall®, “According to a recent McKinsey report, 300 CEOs said they expect up to 50% of their income from technology enabled offerings – really?” Moretti says the math doesn’t add up. “At the rate we’re going, the skills gap will become a chasm so wide that it cannot be bridged.”
Moretti is issuing a call to action to everyone in the high tech world. “Connect with your kid’s school, walk into the office, and ask to speak to someone from the science, math or engineering faculty, and ask to deliver a key note to the kids during their next event – and then deliver a presentation and knock their socks off.”
And Moretti is also pledging to do her part. “I will host any school that asks to a free day at Blue Sky to invent stuff; connect with me on LinkedIn and I’ll make it happen.”